COLUMBIA, S.C. — Senior Taylor Lillard (Victorville, Calif.) and freshman Molly Johnston (Lubbock, Texas) combined for 26 of Gardner-Webb's 61 kills to lead the Runnin' Bulldogs to a thrilling five-set victory over Davidson to kick off the second day of South Carolina's Gamecock Invitational Saturday.
"I am very proud of our players and their resilience today!" said head coach Leo Sayles. "Not only did they bounce back from a poor effort last night, they dug deep and competed start to finish today. After set one, we made a couple of personnel adjustments that proved critical. Molly Johnston was tremendous on the right and Keira Moore seamlessly made the shift from right side to middle. Taylor Lillard also played a solid game with a double-double effort. Great all around effort today!"
Gardner-Webb (8-4) won the match by scores of 19-25, 25-21, 25-21, 18-25 and 15-5, rallying from a 1-0 deficit after the first set and holding Davidson (4-8) to 51 kills and a .190 clip on the attack. The Runnin' Bulldogs tallied 61 kills, 77 digs and 11 blocks in the contest while the Wildcats posted 62 digs and 12 blocks. Gardner-Webb recorded 10 service aces to Davidson's nine.
Lillard led all hitters with 14 kills and added 15 digs to post her third double-double of the season. Johnston put together perhaps her best performance of the season with 12 kills and a .400 hitting percentage, as Hannah Driscoll (Lake Mary, Fla.) and Tyra Long (Tampa, Fla.) tallied 10 and nine kills, respectively. Keira Moore (Spartanburg, S.C.) chipped in seven kills, five aces and four blocks.
Amanda Sahm (Marion, Iowa) and Tinsley Fain (Boiling Springs, S.C.) recorded 29 and 24 assists, respectively, as Sahm added three aces and Emma Milstead (Knoxville, Tenn.) posted a match-high 23 digs.
Kelly Friers and Emily Franklin paced the attack for the Wildcats with 13 and 12 kills, respectively, as Mason Rooney added seven kills, four service aces and four blocks. Franklin posted a match-high eight blocks, while Mikayla Derochie chipped in 27 assists, 12 digs, six blocks and three aces.
Davidson gained the early advantage in the first set, stringing together a 9-4 run before a 5-1 Gardner-Webb run cut the lead to 10-9. The two teams went back and forth for the remainder of the frame, with the Runnin' Bulldogs trimming the margin to 18-16 before Davidson answered with a 7-3 spurt to take the set, 25-19.
Gardner-Webb stormed back in the second, opening the frame with a 13-8 run that was capped by an emphatic smash from Driscoll. After Davidson countered with a 7-4 spurt to close the gap to 17-15, a Lillard smash spurned Gardner-Webb to score eight of the next 14 points to claim the set, 25-21, and even the match at 1-1.
The Runnin' Bulldogs would carry the momentum into the third with a 10-4 run, which was capped off by back-to-back aces from Sahm. Davidson quickly countered with a 10-6 spurt to close the gap to 16-14, forcing Gardner-Webb into a timeout following a tandem block by Mary Harriet Moore and Clara Cockrell.
The Wildcats took their first lead of the set at 19-18 a few moments later before Gardner-Webb regained control, evening the tally on a smash by Long. The kill jumpstarted a 7-2 spurt for the Runnin' Bulldogs, which helped GWU rally for a 25-21 third-set win and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Davidson answered in the fourth, opening the frame with a 14-9 run before a 5-2 spurt by the Runnin' Bulldogs cut the lead to 16-14 following a smash from Driscoll. The Wildcats quickly responded with a 9-4 surge to reclaim the momentum, and force a deciding fifth set with a 25-18 fourth-frame win.
The Runnin' Bulldogs responded with a dominating performance in the fifth set, opening the frame with a 10-3 run that was capped by Sahm's third ace of the day after Davidson recorded the period's first two points. Sahm and the Runnin' Bulldogs would finish out the win from there, as they claimed the set's final four tallies to complete the five-set win.
Gardner-Webb returns to the court at 7:00 pm to close out the Gamecock Invitational against host South Carolina.